Part Eight (of 22) – Dhruva Gana in Natya
1.1. Drama in the ancient context was said to be a blend of four components: speech; gesture; song (or music); and emotion. Each of these was believed to correspond with a Veda: the spoken word or speech the vehicle of elemental power with Rig-Veda; acting, gestures and expressions with ritual action of Yajur Veda; songs rooted in tradition with the musical style of rendering the Sama Veda verses; and emotional elements communicated to spectators through the combination of all such means with Atharva Veda.
1.2. A play was described as a Poem (Kavya) that is to be seen and heard (Drshya-Kavya). Song and Music, therefore, did play a vital role in the enactment of a play. The songs in the play were of Dhruva Gana class.
2.1. Dhruva Gana initially meant versified stage-songs that are essential to a play. They were the type of songs that were sung by the actors on the stage as also by the singers in the wings, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, during the course of the play. These songs formed an essential ingredient of the play. And, Natyashastra says: without songs the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 482). Therefore, much importance is assigned to Dhruva Gana. Natyashastra devotes one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) for discussing the Dhruva songs.
2.2. Abhinavagupta explains that the type of these songs were called Dhruva ( = standpoint; locus of reference) because in it, the Vakya (sentence), Varna (syllables) , Alamkara ( grace notes), Yatis ( succession of rhythm patterns) , Panyah ( use or non-use of drums) and Laya ( beats) were harmoniously fixed ( Dhruva) in relation to each other .(anyonya sambandha) .
Vakya –Varna–Alamkara yatyaha -panayo-layah I Dhruvam-anyonya sambandha yasmath smada Dhruva smrutah II
He further says, the composition (pada samuha) structured as per a rule (niyatah) and that which supports (adhara) singing could be called Dhruva (Dhruvah- Gitya-adhara niyatah pada –samuha).
At another place, Abhinavagupta explains Dhruva as the basis or the support (adhara) on which the song rests. Abhinavagupta saya: just as the painting is supported by wall, the Dhruva song is supported by Pada (word). And, Pada in turn is supported by, the Chhandas (meter) – (Abhinavagupta: NS.32.8).
Thus in the Dhruva Gana the words of the song are regulated by Chhandas. And , the words are then set to appropriate tunes and Taala-s.
Abhinavagupta explains that the Dhruva songs help to enhance the artistic sense of the important themes that occur in various situations in a play.
Earlier, Natyashastra (NS: 32.32) had also explained Dhruva Gana as well composed songs that are steadfast (Dhruva) in the principles of Pada (words), Varna (syllables) and Chhandas (meter) .
When to sing and what to sing
3.1. During the play, the Dhruva–Gana songs were sung at various situations in the drama including entry or exit of a character; or for heightening the emotions; or for dance movements or steps. The type and mood of Dhruva songs varied depending upon the demands of the dramatic situation. That would also take into consideration the theme, the context in performance, the age and the nature of the character as also the moods , the seasons , the place , time (day or night) and conditions ( bright sun , moonlight , cloudy or raining) and so on.
3.2. Natyashastra says that events and emotions that either cannot be expressed or remain to be expressed in speech should be presented through songs. That is because; the songs have the tender power, flexibility and ripeness to bring out the inner content (aantharya) of the situation succulently. And, in songs the words seem to acquire greater depth of meaning.
For instance; the Avakrsta songs having long drawn out syllables were used in pathos and when the character was in misery or nearing death. Dhruva-s of Sthitha in slow tempo were sung in the case of separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, exhaustion or dejection. Prasdiki Dhruva-s in medium tempo is for love scenes, recalling a pleasent memory, sweet speech and wonder. And, the Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes were employed in situations where there was furious heroism, , wonder, excitement , excessive joy or anger .
3.3. At the same time, the Natyashastra also tried to maintain a sense of balance between speech and song. It therefore said: The first round of Dhruva should be without drums, because it is important for the spectators to get to know the theme of the song. And, too much music should not be used in Dhruva because the substance of the song is important to outline the context of the scene. The words (Pada) of the Dhruva are important and should be heard clearly.
And, when a character enters crying in excitement, in wonder or announcing a statement, then Dhruva songs were not to be used.
Particularly when female actors sing the music should not be so loud as to hamper the intricacies of singing. Generally women have sweet and soft voice and they could be allowed more number of songs with mellow instrumentation. The men who have vigorous voice could use louder and intricate instrumental music.
Five types of Dhruva
4.1. Five types of Dhruva are mentioned in the context of Natya according to the situation and the desired mood to be evoked: Pravesiki Dhruva; Naiskramiki Dhruva; Aksepiki Dhruva; ; Prasadiki Dhruva; and Antara Dhruva.
Some of the Dhruva songs were sung by the musicians behind the curtain. And when it was removed the character would enter and join the singing and gesturing the mood etc indicated by the song. All those songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments.
4.2. Pravesiki Dhruva: – these were songs heralding the entrance of a main character on to the stage for the first time. The singing of the Dhruva was generally from behind the screen (Nepathye); and when the screen was removed the character entered on to the stage. And, the actor too would join the singing. This appears to be the forerunner of the Paatra-pravesha Daru of Bhagavata Mela, Yakshagana and Kuravanji Nataka. Rajashekara (Balabharata 1-14) says, the Dhruva that announces and introduces a character, delights the hearts of the spectators helps to forge a relation between the two.
4.3. Naiskramiki Dhruva: – songs rendered during the exit of a character either at end or the middle of an act.
4.4. Aksepiki Dhruva: – songs rendered, between the acts, after a tense scene or to indicate change of mood. The change, sometimes, occurs in the character after listening to Nepathya-vakya – the speech behind the curtain. Along with the change in the mood, a change in tempo also takes place – from slow to quick or the other way. Abhinavagupta illustrates the use of Aksepiki sung in fast tempo (Druta) to indicate the change of mood of Sri Rama from that of sadness (Shoka) to that of heroics (Vira) after listening to Ravana.
4.5. Prasadiki Dhruva: – Prasadiki is described as that which gives rise to colourful delight (ranga-raga) and happiness (Prasada). This type of songs sung in Madhyama Kaala are used to express Srinagar Rasa, as in love-scenes, the first meeting of the lovers, recalling a pleasent memory sweet speech, joy and wonder. It is also meant to clam the spectators after a stressful scene as in Aksepiki.
4.6. Antara Dhruva – is a sort of ‘filler’ that could be used to rescue the performance. It could cover up a gap due to delay or due to a mishap during the play. It could also be sung to offer relief after a disturbing scene such as violence, anger, intense grief swooning, poisoning etc. All such songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments
Antara was always being sung from behind the curtain, while the other four types being sung on the stage and some of that the leading characters.
It is said; Antara Dhruva songs were sung even to divert audience’s attention. For instance; in the middle of one of his plays, Bharatha introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharatha “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?” Bharatha agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyashastra : 4.267-268)
[ Such ‘relief’ Antara Dhruva was perhaps the forerunners of the Item-songs of the Bollywood.]
5.1. Bharatha says that just as the Vedic chants, the Dhruva cannot be without Chhandas (meter) _ (NS: 32.432). In the Natyashastra, Chhandas are discussed as an essential part of vācika abhinaya. And, Vac is said to be the soul of this Abhinaya (expressions with gesticulation). Bharatha considers that the words in Dhruva and Chhandas go together; they are mutually dependent.
(Chandohīno na śabdoˊsti na chandaḥ śabdavarjitam, evam tūbhayasa¿yogo nāṭyasyoddyotakaḥ smṛtaḥ ).
5.2. Bharatha combines the discussion on Chhandas with that on dramatic-plot with script (Pathya). The Chhandas, he says, gives a structure to the words of the Dhruva song (Chhandamsi pāṭhya nibaddha).
5.3. The Chapter 16 of the Natyashastra discusses the practical aspects of Chhandas in Dhruva Gana and gives about 116 illustrations of Dhruva-s set in various Vedic meters such as: Gayatri, Anustub, Tristub, Brihati, Jagati, Panaki etc
Laya literally means ‘to be one with’ and binds the emotion of the song with the Tempo. Laya signifies the speed or the Tempo of a song or dance. Chapter 29 of the Natyashastra discusses how the emotional content (Rasa) or the mood of a Dhruva song could be best presented in a certain Laya.
The measurement of time is usually in terms of the time- interval between two events. Time (that is the duration) appears as a chain that links events separated from one another by periods of rest (absence of events) . That is to say the duration between two events which becomes the basic unit of measure is known as Kaala .
The Kaala is measured in terms of the time-units called Matra. And, one Matra is the time taken to utter five short syllables (e.g. Ka-Cha-Ta-Pa). It is, of course, not precise ; because, the time taken to utter five short syllable might vary from person to person. But, it taken as the approximate time that most, normal, persons would take. Therefore, in the Gandharva Music, Matra is not rigid.
Kaala is the basic unit in terms of which the duration of the Taala is measured (Abhinavagupta: NS: 31.06). A Taala segment is identified as a structure of so many number of Kaala-s. (Thus, Kaala, Matra, Laya and taala are all inter related terms).
The three kinds of units of measure (Kaala) that were employed in the Gandharva Music were: Laghu (short), Guru (long) and Pluta (extended). Laghu is equal to one Matra; Guru to two Matra-s; and Pluta to three Matra-s.
Laya is understood as the time-interval between two Matra-s ( or the pause between two strokes). If the intervals are of short duration then the beats must be fast; and the Tempo would be fast. If the intervals are twice the duration of the fast tempo, the beats become slower; and the Tempo would be middle. And similarly, if the intervals are four times the duration, the beats would get slower ; and the tempo would be slow.
The text speaks of three kinds of Laya: Vilambita (slow); Madhyama (middle); and Dhruta (fast). Vilambita is the basic speed; Madhyama is double the speed of Vilambita Laya; and, Dhruta, the fast, is double the speed of Madhyama Laya.
In Druta Laya the time lag between two Kaala-s is brief; each following the other in quick succession. Thus, when the Laya is short, the tempo of the Taala would be fast. In Madhya Laya, the tempo would be medium ; and in Vilamba the tempo would be slow. The change from Druta to Madhyama is spoken as ‘doubling of Laya’.
There are also other ways of classifying Laya: Sama, Srotogata and Gopuccha. This is spoken in terms of Yati which is a sort of method to indicate Laya.
In the Sama there is a uniformity of Laya in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. In the Srotagata (like the flow of the river that expands in breadth) Vilambita is used in the beginning, Madhyama in the middle and Druta in the end. The Goputccha (tapering like a cow’s tail) is the reverse order of Srotagata.
Laya is an integral part of music, while Taala is its physical expression through a precise time-cycle. Laya is thus said to be Prana (vital force) of Taala. And the two terms are sometimes used alternatively. Therefore, the Taala-s of Dhruva songs sometimes are referred to as Laya-s or Laya-taala.
Bharatha elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, as it performed a large role in coordinating different activities of music, drums and dance. The function of the Taala is measuring the rhythm of the song and regulating the flow of the rhythm and the melody in the song. He explained Taala saying as a definite measure of time upon which Dhruva Gana rests: ganam talena dharyathe. Matra is the smallest unit of the Taala. A Taala does not have a fixed tempo (Laya); and, can be played at different speeds. The Taala-s used in Dhruva songs were simpler – say , like Tryasra and Chturasra. ; and , were regulated by the meter (Chhandas) of the song text (Pathya) (Abhinavagupta :NS: 32.352) .
In the Tryasra Dhruva the steps should follow three Kaalas. And, in Chatusra they should follow four Kaalas (Kaala = Matra that is the time required to utter five short syllables)
Natyashastra recommends songs exuding Karuna Rasa (sorrow) should in Vilamba Laya; Sringara (erotic) in Madhyama Laya; and, Veera (heroics) and Raudra (anger) in Druta Laya.
And, in relation to Dhruva Gana, in particular, Natyashastra provides number of illustrations.
:- Dhruva compositions of Avakrsta type , full of long syllables (Avakrsta) expressing pathos (Karuna) , separation (Viraha) ; or when the character on the stage is fettered , fallen , disabled, fainted and nearing death – should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala (slow tempo).
– When the movement is slow (with wide steps) as during the entry of an elephant; and when songs with long syllables are sung
– Dhruva-s of Sthitha type in slow tempo depicting separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, restlessness, exhaustion or dejection, should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala (slow tempo).
– With regard to Sthitha Dhruva songs, its twofold aspects (sthana) are described as Parastha and Atma-samsrita . Abhinavagupta explains these terms as referring to songs that help to clearly bring out the pathos the situation. For instance; the character of Sri Rama sings a Dhruva song in anguish pining for his separated beloved Sita it would be Atma-samsrita ( concerned with the character proper); and , the Dhruva song that Lakshmana sings empathising with his brother and sharing his pain that would be Parastha ( concerned with others’ sorrow).
:- Madhyama Kaala is the normal or the standard (middle) Tempo. And, it is particularly recommended for Prasadiki type of Dhruva songs sung in love scenes (Sringara), first meeting of lovers (prathama samagama), recalling a pleasent memory (priya varthalapa) , sweet speech (madhouse bhashi), joy (harsha) and wonder (Adbhutam, Vismaya)).
: – Dhruta the fast Tempo is employed in varieties of occasions:
– When the character is in confusion, wonder, sudden joy or anger.
– For Dhruva of short syllables; for quick movement during scenes that depict entry of chariots, aerial-cars (Vimana).
– For Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes, employed in situations where there was furious heroism, wonder, excitement, excessive joy or anger.
[A word of caution the concepts of Kaala, Matra , Laya etc as mentioned in the ancient Gandharva and Gana Music are NOT the same as they are understood in the present time.]
[Natyashastra provided rules not merely for singing but also for speech delivery (Vachika) . It mentions that in order to bring out the right effects the speech should be well articulated and should respect the virtues (Dharma) of: Svara (notes), Sthana (voice registers), Varna (pitch of the vowel), Kaku (intonation), and Laya (tempo) – NS.19.43-59.
It specifies that the scenes involving humour (Hasya) and erotic or love (Srungara) the speech should be modulated by Madhyama and Panchama Svaras (notes); acute pitch (Udatta and Svarita); and , medium tempo (Madhya Laya). Where as in the scenes depicting heroics (Vira) and wonder (Adbhuta ) the speech should be in Shadja and Rishabha Svaras; acute and trembling pitch (Udatta and Kampita) ; and , quick tempo (Druta Laya). And, in the scenes of pathos (Karuna) the speech should in slow tempo (vilamba).
As regards the voice registers (Sthana), they vary according to the space (distance) on the stage between the characters. It is said: to call a character that is at a distance, the voice should proceed from the top register (Siras); to call one who is a short distance the voice register should emanate from chest (Uras); and, to speak to one who is standing next the voice register should be from the throat (Kanta). ]
9.1. Theatre in the Natyashastra is a huge symbolism; and , it is projected beyond the natural world. Apart from that , Theatre in the sense of Drama functions on many levels of symbolism – through speech (Vachika-abhinaya), costume , make-up (Aharya) gestures (Mudra), exhibiting emotions (sattvika abhinaya) and in music (Gana).
9.2. Dhruva symbolisms are dealt with great detail. Symbols representing the moon, the fire, the sun and the wind; and these are to be used in the case of gods and kings; The night , the moon light, lotus plants, she elephants , rivers and night in the case of queens; The clouds, mountains and oceans are used in the case of demons; The elephants in the rut and royal-swans in the case of superior beings; Peacocks and lotuses in the case of middling’s; Cuckoos , bees in the case of others; Creepers and swans in the case of other women and courtesans; The female bee and female cuckoo in the case other women.
9.3. The entrance song (Pravesiki) is to be sung to indicate anything happening in the fore-noon; and, the exit song (Naiskramiki) to indicate anything happening by day and night. Gentle Dhruva-s are to be sung to indicate the forenoon; and, the songs with excitement to indicate the noon . And, the pathetic Dhruva-s are to be sung in case of afternoon and evenings.
The symbolisms of the Dhruva-s with their evocative suggestions, enriched by melodious music, helped to enhance the aesthetic quality of the theatrical presentation.
Languages of Dhruva Gana
10.1.Bharata states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha ( to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha ( for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha ( for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners ) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified and the tribal)
As for the language of the Dhruva songs, which were sung either by the actors or by the musicians behind the curtain, it was, usually, not Sanskrit (in contrast to Gandharva songs in Sanskrit that were sung during the Purvanga, the preliminaries), but was Prakrit, the regional languages. Natyashastra discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī, Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī, Ardhamāgadhī, Bāhlikā and Dākṣiṇātyā (NŚ 5.17-48). However, most of the Dhruva-s were composed in Suraseni or Magadhi; and some in Ardha-Samskrita (mixture of Sanskrit and the regional language). The songs addressing to heavenly beings were however in Sanskrit (NS.32.441).
10.2. As regards Śaurasenī, it was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrita dialects.
10.3. In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East as also Ardha-Magadhi and Prachya , also of the East, were spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers , doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters and by the duṣṭa (wicked) . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.
10.4. In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭrī also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari and according to linguists; it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī, but sing in Mahārāṣṭrī.
The security guards and doorkeepers were said to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest – Ancient Bactria; modern Balkh region) , considered as outsiders.
10.5. Natyashastra (NS.32.56-354) presents more than 116 examples of Dhruva-s in Prakrit in various meters including Vedic meters such as Gayatri, Anustubh, and Tristubh etc.
10.6. The language of the Suraseni or Magadhi (specially the Narukta Dhruva) dialects was usually be simple. And, the songs talked about the things that one sees in nature during the different seasons (Rtu) , such as : the bright sun, the soothing moon, the sparking stars in a cloudless dark night sky , the passing dark clouds laden with water bringing cheer to the hearts of lovers , the thunderous lightning that drives the Lady love into the arms of the lover etc.
10.7. The language of the Dhruva songs sung by women was generally Prakrit. Bharatha says the vocal music should be generally the province of the women as their voice is naturally sweet.
In the next Part let’s talk about Musical instruments mentioned in Natyashastra.
Please click on the picture below
Continued in Next Part
Musical Instruments in Natyashastra
Sources and References
Studies in the Nāṭyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama…
By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar
Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition
By Guy L. Beck
Poetics of performance by TM Krishna
Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate
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